2019 has shown off some really cool phones. 5G is now officially a thing, screens are now fingerprint sensors, and paint jobs look a lot like magic. The temptation to pick one of them up is pretty strong, especially when we grab our current phone and see how it no longer has that new car smell. Here's a crazy idea, though — those features that we want will still be there next year and that phone we already have probably still does all the things that made us want it in the first place.
This might be an unpopular opinion on a smartphone enthusiast site, and I can imagine the people who work tirelessly to show off these new phones feel very differently, but you probably don't need to buy a new phone every year.
All of us know that person who is holding on to a phone that's four or five years old and says they will use it until it no longer turns on. While I admire the resolve, I know most of us just can't go that way because we're enthusiasts (read: junkies in need of a techno-fix) and several years is like forever in the tech world. But if you have a Pixel 3 or a Note 9 or a OnePlus 6T you probably could sit out this year and be just fine. And save a bunch of cash you could use to buy into another obsession.
That's not to say that 2019 didn't bring (or will bring because Google likes to hold out until the end) some really innovative stuff. Improvements in design — both hardware and software — are everywhere and whatever you love most about having a smartphone probably got better with this year's phones than it was last year. I'm not trying to claim that these improvements aren't worth having. I am saying that they will still be there when the phone we spent a lot of money on last year is so old we no longer appreciate it.
Of course, this isn't always the case. If you want everything a Galaxy S phone has to offer but hate the rounded display, the S10e was a godsend. If you had a Pixel 2 XL and the display burned holes in your eyes, the Pixel 3 XL may have been worth buying even with that notch. OnePlus moved to a battlebot robotic camera thingy. Huawei has that camera and its cool AI. If you find something you really want to see, buying a new phone can be well worth it. The only right and wrong are what you decide. I'm simply saying that upgrading just because something is new is usually wrong. Fight me.
Toss all this out the window if your boss buys your phone or you have some crazy deal from a carrier that gets you a new one at the drop of a hat. But if that's not you, think about what you can do with that money for a minute. Let's call the average cost of a new flagship phone $800. Buying a new phone every other year instead of annually saves you $4,000 over 10 years. Will you get an extra $4,000 of enjoyment because you bought a new phone every year? Or would you rather buy fill in the blank with that cash? I'd rather buy a pony made of diamonds or something, myself.
I'm not immune to this but I've really scaled back. I got a company-provided Pixel 3 last year and will be getting a company-provided Pixel 4 this year. I kind of need one to do my job, and since I'm not paying, I gladly take the new model once it arrives. But I'm also really happy with my other phone and BlackBerry will need to wow me with a KEY3 before it can convince me to send money. All the things I liked about it when it was new are still things worth liking and while a new feature or two is cool, they need to be cool enough to justify the costs of upgrading. In most cases, I don't see that reason from phone manufacturers now.
Maybe we've reached peak smartphone or maybe phone makers like to hold back every other year. All I know is that no matter how great the Note 10 or Pixel 4 look, I just don't see a reason to toss out a working phone that I liked enough to buy in 2018. If you do, go for it. Be happy. That's what really matters.
Good for two years
The small phone to get
The Galaxy S10e is one of the best small phones you can buy today, and it will be just as good in 2020.
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